International News

Italian Bishops’ Conference Lifts Remaining COVID Restrictions

A man wearing a mask for protection from COVID-19 prays in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, Italy, in this Oct. 2, 2020, file photo. (CNS photo)

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) — With the World Health Organization’s declaration that COVID-19 “no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” the leadership of the Italian bishops’ conference said church activities, including liturgies, could be celebrated as they were before the pandemic began in 2020.

However, the conference said May 8, diocesan bishops could continue “to order or suggest certain prudential norms such as the sanitization of hands before the distribution of Communion or the use of a mask when visiting the frail, elderly or immunocompromised sick.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization had said May 5 that COVID-19 “is now an established and ongoing health issue which no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.”

The declining number of hospitalizations and deaths, WHO said, is due to increased immunity because of vaccinations and recovery from the disease. It encouraged continued vigilance, continued reporting of cases and integration of COVID-19 vaccines into a person’s normal lifetime vaccination program.

The president, vice presidents and secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference, in a letter to the country’s bishops, offered thanks to the medical personnel, government, school officials, priests and private citizens who cooperated to slow the spread of the pandemic — including in churches — care for the sick and help the economy recover.

The bishops remembered “the many people who lost their lives, including hundreds of priests who contracted the infection while carrying out their ministry.”

Children from Viterbo, Italy, who recently made their first Communion participate in an evening Marian prayer service led by Pope Francis in the Vatican Gardens May 31, 2021. (CNS photo)

All church activities, including the celebration of Masses and pious devotions, they said, “can go back to being lived in the manner that was usual prior to the health emergency.”

While noting that bishops might want to keep some sanitary regulations in place, the leadership of the conference encouraged bishops and priests to discontinue or at least reduce the number of Masses being broadcast or livestreamed, apparently with a view to encouraging people to return to Mass in person.

And, they said, church activities and ministries at health and welfare facilities must follow the guidelines in place there.